Traffic. Congestion. Two words most Puget Sound commuters are familiar with these days. The latest Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) numbers show the importance of the work now ramping up to extend Sound Transit’s light rail service farther south and expand the capacity of Sounder commuter rail service.
WSDOT’s 2017 Corridor Capacity Study puts some hard numbers to our traffic congestion problems. In 2016, WSDOT reported that 75 percent of the time, the 22-mile morning commute between Federal Way and Seattle is congested. Coming home, eight miles of your evening commute back to Federal Way experiences routine congestion.
Do you drive State Route 167 every day? Commuters sit in traffic every morning going north to Renton and every evening heading south to Kent and Auburn. WSDOT estimates that congestion on SR 167 between Auburn and Renton costs commuters nearly $1,000 a year.
So, what do we do about it? Well, we can look at adding more lanes on our roadways, but there’s not a lot of room left to expand highways. At Sound Transit, we believe mass transit options are part of the answer.
Sound Transit 3 funded significant expansions of our Sounder service in the region. Our Sounder stations in Auburn and Kent will gain expanded parking access in the next few years, with room for approximately 1,000 more vehicles. Last September, we expanded our Sounder commuter service to 13 round trips each day. Ridership on Sounder increased by nearly 3 percent in 2017, serving more than 4.4 million commuters.
We’ll also be able to extend our Sounder platforms to operate 10-car trains. The addition of three Sounder cars will increase the capacity of each train by 40 percent. We also have funding to work with the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad on adding more Sounder trips to our daily schedule. In 2036, we plan to offer Sounder service farther south to Joint-Base Lewis-McCord, with stations in Tillicum and the city of DuPont.
In 2016 Sound Transit extended light rail farther south to Angle Lake Station in SeaTac, with parking for more than 1,000 cars. Link ridership grew 22 percent in 2017, serving more than 23 million riders. With the approval of Sound Transit 3, more transit options for South King County commuters are on the way. Last year, the Sound Transit Board approved the route of the 7.8 mile Federal Way Link Extension which upon its 2024 opening will extend light rail service from Angle Lake station to the Federal Way Transit Center. The project is in the design-build phase, with construction scheduled to begin in mid-2019. You can keep up on the project by signing up for email updates at Federal Way Link Extension.
The route generally follows the west side of I-5, with stations in Kent/Des Moines, South 272 at Star Lake, and ending with a station at the Federal Way Transit Center. The stations will provide commuters with 1,500 new parking stalls. The new route will offer light rail users a 15-minute trip between Federal Way and SeaTac airport.
Federal Way is not the end of the story. In April, Sound Transit kicks off the planning process for extending light rail from Federal Way down to the Tacoma Dome. Open houses for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension will be taking place in April. As our expansion projects move forward, we encourage you to participate in the public-involvement process and to let us know what you think. Sign up for project updates at Tacoma Dome Link Extension.
Expanding transit services in South King County will dramatically expand the capacity of the region’s transportation system. As an example, light rail trains can move more than 8,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Eighteen thousand people ride our Sounder trains every day. Every one of those transit riders is one more person who won’t be experiencing or adding to increasing traffic congestion.
While these expansions are under development, Sound Transit offers South King County residents several transit options. There are several ST Express bus routes that will take you from Federal Way to Seattle and Tacoma. Please stay tuned for updates on our progress, and if you haven’t taken a trip on our trains and buses, we hope you’ll climb aboard and discover how easy and convenient they are.
Scott Thompson is the public information officer, Communications & External Affairs, for Sound Transit.